Archive for November, 2009

Today’s Post Is Brought to You by the Number Twelve

Recently, one of the greatest television shows of all time celebrated its fortieth anniversary. Of course, I’m talking about “Sesame Street,” that funky slice of 1970s America that continues to teach and inspire children today.

I’m sure most of us can recall the songs, characters, and lessons that the show imprinted on us. I was lucky enough to watch the show pre-Elmo, so I got the real deal:

“Sesame Street” was the first, and for a number of years, the only show where I saw people who looked like my family. I mean, who can forget Luis and Maria?

It wasn’t until years later that I realized how revolutionary Jim Henson’s approach was. The guy didn’t just throw in a few minor characters who were different races, which still would have been considered groundbreaking for the time. He made Latinos and blacks key members of the community, even if the block on which they all congregated was strangely free of sunlight every day of the year (maybe they lived in Seattle).

“Sesame Street” was also one of the first programs on which I heard Spanish. And it wasn’t just flavoring. The show went out of its way to teach basic Spanish words and phrases. I have to assume that if the show debuted today, it would be criticized for teaching the invaders’ language, and funding would be threatened unless all on-air business was conducted in English.

Indeed, I’ve heard of some parents who forbid their children to watch “Sesame Street” because of its perceived liberal agenda. I truly hope that this is an urban myth. Otherwise, someone is going to have to explain to me what is so “liberal” about racial tolerance and basic literacy.

But for the most part, “Sesame Street” has been grandfathered from the culture wars. MSNBC points out that the show “modeled the kind of racial idealism we should continually strive for” but that it “wasn’t just some idyllic land where no one ever disagreed…. It was a place where everyone always talked and continued talking.”

That wouldn’t be such a bad place to live.

The Highs and Lows

As is appropriate this week, I would like to give thanks. But rather than go on about the myriad things that I’m thankful for in my personal life, let me point out two recent news items that fill me with gratitude.

First, I’m happy that Hispanics continue to make progress in America. What’s the latest indicator that we’re moving on up? Well, for the first time in the 130-year history of the American Bar Association, a Latino will lead the organization.

Stephen Zack, who is Cuban-American, recently became president-elect of the top lawyers’ association in America. Zack says that his focus will be on civil rights, civic education, and (yikes!) immigration law. In honor of Zack’s achievement, I promise to lay off the lawyer jokes for a while… well, at least until the end of this post.

Another news story this week made me grateful in a different way. It made me thankful that I don’t live among idiots.

In my former hometown of New York City, a couple are suing the co-op board of their ritzy apartment building. The couple claims that the woman, a model, angered her fellow residents when she married the building’s former doorman. That may have been an unforgivable breach of class protocol, but according to the suit, what really set off the neighbors was that it meant “a Hispanic former porter” would be their peer.

Now I don’t know if the suit is valid, but the neighbors’ reaction certainly sounds suspicious. At the very least, you would think people would be happy with the news.

After all, it’s just a matter of time before some Hollywood producer swoops in and buys the rights to this cross-gender “Maid in Manhattan” fantasy and gives it a role-reversal “Pretty Woman” treatment (without the prostitution). That would make the building famous, and the people who live there would be celebrities by default. But apparently, they can’t let it go, because the guy is Latino.

Yes, it was quite a week to be grateful to be Hispanic.

Taking Care of Business

OK, I have a few technical details to address here.

First, you may have noticed that I redid the right-hand column of this blog. It better reflects my status as a multitasking, cutting-edge Latino who is always plugged into the zeitgest of a hectic, speed-of-light society.

By that, I mean I have finally signed up for Twitter. My tweets will appear on this blog, but it would be grand if you clicked on the supplied link to sign up as a follower of Hispanfan. I will, of course, reciprocate.

The second change to the column is that I have finally gotten around to adding a search function. So now, if you’re looking for a post I wrote about, say, artichokes, you can go directly to it (by the way, I never wrote a post about artichokes).

Finally, I’m pleased to announce that WordPress has taken care of a nagging bug that has afflicted my site for a while. As such, I finally have a Share Button on the site. So now if a post amuses, intrigues, or infuriates you, you can click the button and send it to StumbleUpon, Delicious, or myriad other social-networking sites. Feel free to do this as often as you can, as that will accelerate the day when the Fanatic has as much media saturation as the cast of “New Moon.”

And what a day that will be.

So I Guess We Have Three Years to Live It Up

I have to finish this post quickly, before the world ends. At the very least, I have to wrap it up before 2013, when it will not only be irrelevant but even more embarrassing for the paranoid among us to read.

As you are no doubt aware, the blockbuster movie “2012” is currently assaulting filmgoers across the country. The film, which grossed more than $65 million on its opening weekend, is a disaster flick about the end of the world. The plot revolves around the ancient Mayan “prophecy” that we will all be obliterated on December 21, 2012. This is the date on which the Mayan calendar ends. Ergo, we’re toast.

This supposed prophecy was also referenced in the series finale of “The X-Files,” only then it was the launch date for the ultimate alien invasion or something (seriously, does anybody remember what that show was about at the end?).

In any case, I hesitated to even write about this movie, as I certainly don’t relish dishing out free publicity to moronic Hollywood flicks. I do have to admit, however, that the visuals look pretty cool. Apparently, my new hometown of Los Angeles gets obliterated in spectacular fashion:

My problem with Roland Emmerich’s film isn’t its absurdity or farfetched plot or cardboard characters – none of which I can actually verify because I haven’t seen the movie (call my impression an educated guess). And it’s not that I’m oh-so-above these big-budget popcorn flicks and watch only obscure Hungarian dramas about beet farmers. Check out my DVD collection for proof of my affinity for car crashes, huge explosions, and zombie attacks.

No, my issue is that “2012” pillages an ancient culture, deliberately misrepresents its traditions, and then claims its all true. More important, it taps into the serious vein of crazy that we have in this country.

We would like to believe that the “2012” stew of new-age hokum and cynical commercialism appeals solely to undiscriminating viewers and guys who hope their dates will jump onto their laps during the scary parts. However, the film’s central premise has already found a huge online following of people who are convinced it’s rational.

Perhaps this is not surprising in a culture where the theory of evolution appears to be open to debate, and a new September 11 conspiracy arises every month. But this latest strain of paranoia can have repercussions.

David Morrison, a senior scientist with the NASA Astrobiology Institute, says in a “National Geographic” article that he’s received emails from people who “were contemplating killing their children and themselves so they wouldn’t have to suffer through the end of the world.”

Of course, that’s an extreme reaction. Or perhaps it’s just the most effective way to avoid seeing another movie from the director of “Godzilla.”

The point is that it’s fine when a film tells us that Martians are coming or computers have became sentient or a synthetic virus has turned everybody into cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers. But don’t insult people and get the nuts riled up by insisting that these wild scenarios are based on fact.

That the filmmakers are distorting Hispanic culture to give the movie some kind of old-school legitimacy is vexing. In actuality, the Mayan calendar’s exact meaning is open to debate. But its status as a doomsday clock is purely an American invention.

As the “Onion” points out, the real Mayan prophecy is that this movie will end any respect we have for John Cusack’s acting career. That prediction is far more plausible.

Wading into the Great Debate

I’ve avoided commenting on the healthcare controversy too much because, first, it’s a massively complex issue that would require several posts to do justice. And second, I have no desire to spend time purging my inbox of illiterate screeds that insist I’m a socialist under Obama’s evil spell.

However, I do have to make a few points about the legislation that Congress is considering. Because my focus is on Hispanic culture, let me throw some information about Latinos’ healthcare at you.

Hispanics are younger than the general population, and therefore enjoy the health benefits that come with youth. Also, when compared to white people, we tend to have healthier hearts (yes, despite our infamous hot tempers) and are less likely to suffer a stroke.

However, these pluses must be balanced against the fact that we tend to be fatter, have a greater risk for diabetes, and are less likely to be fully immunized when compared to the majority culture.

Most interesting is that Latinos are the group most likely to be uninsured. A stunning 40 percent of Hispanics don’t have insurance, which no doubt accounts for a large chunk of the overall uninsured rate of 16 percent.

Of course, one reason for that is because the current system makes it difficult for immigrants to get insurance. And since we’re on that subject…

It’s telling that despite all the problems, controversies, conspiracy theories, and whacked-out distractions that accompany the healthcare debate, only one concept provoked a U.S. congressman to shatter decades of political etiquette and indulge in a childish outburst. You no doubt remember this magical moment:

What got Congressman Wilson so up in arms was Obama’s statement that illegal immigrants would not be covered under his plan. Now, it’s one thing to shout insults at the president on live television. It takes even more cojones when you’re wrong.

In fact, illegal immigrants are not covered under any public option. Nor would they be provided with vouchers to help them pay for insurance. The Senate version of the bill even prevents them from buying insurance on public exchanges.

So it seems pretty clear that they’re not covered, right? Well, what has Wilson supporters screaming that their man was right is that the House version of the bill does not specifically bar illegal immigrants from buying insurance with their own money at full cost.

Regardless of political ideology, it strains logic to say that this provision means that taxpayers will have to pay for illegal immigrants’ healthcare. Actually, it seems to me that it would be the other way around, in that illegal immigrants would pay full price and help lower the costs for everyone. But I’m not an economist, much less a right-wing one.

The only way to appease the nativist crowd is if illegal immigrants are not allowed to buy anything in this country with their own money. Their cash,incidentally, is usually earned by repairing your roof, picking your vegetables, and raising your kids. But that’s another story.

By the way, one late amendment would send the bill for illegal immigrants’ healthcare to their countries of origin, which is at least a creative (albeit farfetched) approach. I’m sure, however, that this idea will go nowhere.

In any case, we can have a legitimate discussion about how much all this costs, and if it’s the best way to address the problem, and how to address the healthcare of non-citizens. But we’re not having that discussion, because too many people are busy shouting “Communist!” and accusing Obama of setting up death panels while dishing out free healthcare to illegal immigrants.

In a decade or so, after all this is sorted out and the United States has some kind of public healthcare, we’ll be stumped over what all the screaming was about. That’s my hope, anyway.

In Jeopardy

I recently wrote about the study in “Freakonomics” that showed white contestants on game shows were more likely to discriminate against Latinos than against blacks. The more I’ve thought about this study, the more that it begins to make sense to me.

You see, over the past decade or so, I’ve tried out for several game shows – not because I have any desire to appear excitable on television, but because I’d like the cash. It helps that I have an affinity for trivia. Really, you would want me on your team on quiz night at the bar, because I know a lot of useless shit.

Now, when it comes to the tryouts, I’ve always passed the written or online test (by the way, the “Jeopardy” one is a bitch). But the follow-up, the in-person interviews have gone about as well as a blind date between Condoleezza Rice and Michael Moore. Not once have I been called back to appear on the numerous shows on which, according to the test results at least, I would theoretically kick ass.

When I first started trying out, I figured that my rejections were because a long-haired guy in his twenties was too odd for primetime. Even after my look became more, shall we say, conservative, however, I failed to make the cut. So I presumed that I was just too stoic or reserved for tv.

But now I have proof. I’ve seen guys mellower than me on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” I’ve watched as contestants have floundered over gimme questions like “Who is the only U.S. president to earn a PhD?” (Woodrow Wilson, but you knew that already).

I mean, some people have come across as truly thick-headed:

Yes, I’ve had it. The next time I try out for a show, I’m informing the interviewer that this one goes out to La Raza.

That should work.

More About That Aforementioned Mindset

In my last post, I wrote about my move to California. I wondered if my tendency to take off for new adventures has anything to do with my family’s recent history as immigrants.

Now, I’ve spent some time in the corporate world, and as such, I despise phrases like “paradigm shift” or “new dynamic.” Still, it seems clear that something is up.

Americans are moving less than ever before, a result of the cataclysm we jokingly call our economy. It’s been almost half a century since so few of us changed addresses. Just over one percent of us moved to a new state, which as the New York Times points out, “suggests that Americans were unable or unwilling to follow any job opportunities that may have existed around the country, as they have in the past. And the lack of movement… could have an impact on the economy, reducing the economic activity generated by moves.”

I’ve done my part by selling my house (yes, in this market) packing up, and road-tripping two thousand miles. Granted, my previous employer’s decision to downsize me made this choice easier (thanks for the catalyst, guys!). However, it seemed clear to my wife and me that that we needed to shake things up. So we moved.


You’ll have to ask me in a few years whether this was the right call or not. But I’m optimistic.

Many Americans are not similarly upbeat, of course, or they lack the resources to hit the road. Still, many of us who could move – and in some cases, should move – are staying put. According to the Times, this shows that “the U.S. population, often thought of as the most mobile in the developed world, seems to have been stopped dead in its tracks due a confluence of constraints posed by a tough economic spell.”

I don’t want to extol Thomas Friedman as some kind of wise soothsayer (I’ve got some issues with the guy), but much of his “world is flat” thesis sounds like the simple acknowledgement that Americans whose families go back generations still have to be willing to adapt, because everyone else – whether Mexican immigrants, first-generation Indians, or some other demographic – is willing to do so.

It’s true that immigration is at its lowest point in a decade, another sign of economic meltdown. Still, immigrants (by their very nature) are more willing to ditch their old life and tackle the newest challenge, and they will be the first ones to do it again when the economy picks up.

Meanwhile, we may be exiting the period of history when Americans had the luxury of saying, “This is where I grew up, and this is where my family is, so I’m not budging.” That will no longer be the intrinsic justification it once was.

Americans obviously have the capability to change. People rolled west in the Great Depression. And California didn’t become the most populous state just because of Mexican immigrants (although in the right-wing mind, that’s the sole reason the state has any problems whatsoever).

Even if we stay put, however, we have to accept that our hometowns are inevitably changing in front of us, proving once more that we live in not only a place but a time. Acknowledging this fact makes it less scary to consider going where the jobs and experiences and challenges are.

One thing I love about moving to California is that – despite the crowded cities and governmental bankruptcy and earthquakes and shallowness – the place represents change. But I had to come here to discover that.

An American Mindset

My return to California has been the recurrent theme of many of my recent posts. Packing up my life has me thinking about the many times I’ve relocated. As I close in on forty, I’ve just completed my sixth major move (the first was when I was an infant). Counting all the minor moves within cities, I’m probably well past twenty zip codes.

Looking at it another way, my wife and I have been together for eighteen years, and we figure we’ve spent about three of those getting ready for, or recovering from, a move. And let me tell you, living among boxes and making appointments to get cable hooked up never loses its exotic luster.


So why do I do it?

Perhaps, among the restlessness and need for change, there is a more basic reason. I think it might have something to do with my family’s recent history as immigrants. There’s a willingness to strike out and explore that many people who are fifth or sixth generation don’t seem to have.

I’m not saying this is either good or bad. It’s just a different mindset.

For example, when I graduated from college, I moved to New York City. Many of my friends were aghast that I would just pack up and leave without a job, bound for such a huge and insane place.

But I knew that my mother had also moved to New York City in her twenties. The difference was that she understood very little English and was on her own. In contrast, I was a natural-born citizen, fluent in the ways of the culture, with a fresh college degree and the companionship of my girlfriend (now wife). I correctly saw it as a no big deal in comparison.

This attitude seems to permeate my family. I recently wrote about Cousin #5, who recently moved to Hawaii. She did it because she wanted to live there, which is a good enough reason in my family (it’s working out well for her, by the way).

The cousins and I all grew up in one city in America’s heartland. Only three of us remain in that hometown. The other five are spread out from California to Texas to North Carolina to Hawaii. One of us actually went back to El Salvador. As such, over half my family’s current generation has said, “Let’s hit the road.”

I compare this to my wife’s family, many of whom still live in the same small Midwestern town in which their original ancestors settled. Most of my friends live in or near to their respective hometowns, be that quant suburb or sprawling metropolis.

Again, that doesn’t make my family oh-so-cool. It’s just different.

So will this tendency to keep moving die down as we age? Will the next generation (my cousins’ children) say, “No thanks, I’m staying here”?

Well, I’d love to discuss that with you, but I can’t right now. You wouldn’t believe how many boxes I have to unpack yet.

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